Matthew Shepard’s Murder: More “Breaking Bad” Than Hate Crime?
Posted by guest blogger Bookworm.
Everything you know about the October 6, 1998 murder of Matthew Shepard is probably wrong. The only thing you know that is correct is the murder itself – and it was truly horrific. Shepard, who was only 21 when he died, was horribly beaten and tortured, and then, dying, was tied to a fence in Laramie, Wyoming. He hung on the fence for 18 hours before a bicyclist found him after first mistaking him for a scarecrow. Shepard died five days later without ever regaining consciousness.
His death was tragic by any definition but, in the annals of American crime, there was nothing to distinguish his death from other brutal murders. There are, after all, bad and crazy people out there. Why, then, do we remember the crime today and why has his name become a by-word for campaigns against hatred, especially gay hatred?
To begin with Shepard was gay. That in itself wouldn’t have been enough to drive a hate-crime industry. What happened, though, was that, even before he died, well-meaning (or misleading) friends told local media that they believed Shepard had been beaten to death because he was gay. They also told the story to such gay activist groups as GLAAD, which believed that the all-American looking Shepard was the perfect poster child to push for “hate crime” legislation concerning gays. With Shepard’s sexuality taking center stage in the drama, an ordinary, albeit brutal, murder became a cause célèbre
The theory that Shepard died because he was gay was given further strength when Fred Phelps’ loathsome church picketed his funeral (“No tears for queers” and “Fag Matt in Hell”) and when the two men arrested for the crime said that they killed Shepard in a homophobic frenzy after he made sexual advances to them. Their girlfriends, who had already tried to give them false alibis, corroborated this story.
Gay journalist Stephen Jimenez, however, has unearthed facts that show that the motivation behind Shepard’s death, however, wasn’t homophobia, it was methamphetamines. The drama of Shepard’s death wasn’t “The Martyrdom of the Gay Man;” instead, it was “Breaking Bad.”